The latest Richmond Triangle Players' production is called "The Judas Kiss," so you know going in that there's going to be all sorts of Christ symbolism.
Playwright David Hare uses that symbolism to dramatize the downfall of Oscar Wilde, the popular 19th-century playwright and raconteur who died a pauper after being convicted of being a homosexual. But if the real Christ had been as insufferably talky, sardonic and impassive as Hare's Wilde, someone would have betrayed him long before Judas.
In "Kiss," Wilde is supposed to be a tragic casualty of misplaced love but comes off as an overly verbose victim of his own indecision. As if to reinforce Wilde's passivity, he spends most of the second act in a chair. His physical and emotional inactivity makes him a static center around which to build a play.
It's a shame because Tony Sharpenstein makes a great Wilde with his precise diction, prominent chin and air of English gentility. And Chris Evans as the pompous, self-centered lover, Lord Alfred, brings an abundance of much-needed energy to every scene he's in. A lively spat between the lovers that starts Act Two crackles with the wit that Wilde was famous for. But despite the actors' best efforts, this momentum soon peters out so that the play's final confrontation ends up more pitiable than profound.
The rest of the cast members do well with what they are given but are most memorable for their lack of clothing in several scenes. Director W.R. "Hutch" Hutchinson's set is nicely detailed but clumsy lighting keeps Lord Alfred in the dark during much of the second act.
Early on, Hare has Wilde say, "Action is something my mother brought me up to distrust." It's an ironic line because a little more action is just what this play needs. "The Judas Kiss" plays at Fielden's Cabaret Theatre at 8 p.m. Thursday - Saturday, through Nov. 21. Tickets are $12.
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